Social media provides users with information via blogs, podcasts, and webinars. Users write reviews or create forums, wikis, and videos. Users connect with each other and providers through virtual worlds and social network communities.
“Social networking has caused a fundamental and transformational shift in the way that people are connecting, knowledge is being shared and information is flowing,” says Charles B. Kreitzberg, Ph.D., CEO of Cognetics, a firm dealing with the human aspects of computer technology.
About 50% of large companies and 75% of small ones (fewer than 500 employees) are using social media of all types. Of those, it is estimated that 40-60% have their own social network. Microsoft has the Town Square, IBM the Blue Pages, and Best Buy the Blue Shirt Nation.
“Engage me, inform me, and entertain me,” says Bernie Borges, author of Marketing 2.0: Bridging the Gap Between Seller and Buyer on the Social Web. “But don’t make me read an ad; don’t send me email news. Companies are made up of people; be social with your existing and prospective customers.”
Social networking creates personal networks of friends and professional networks of colleagues available to offer information at the click of a mouse. Meeting others through online conversations creates and strengthens relationships, alerting employees to who knows what, where to go for information. Through social networks, people share common interests or needs who wouldn’t normally meet; they support each other in knowledge sharing and problem solving.
Social networking helps form business strategies and strategic alliances. Howard Rheingold, Rheingold Associates, notes that a large teachers organization had developed and was promoting new standards for teaching math at all levels. Getting everyone together was unrealistic so what was the most efficient way to promote the new math standards?
Ultimately, the teachers organization partnered with a public television station to produce and distribute videos showing real teachers teaching to the new standards. A teacher facilitated interaction on a social network with groups of teachers to share teaching experiences, student projects and best practices. One teacher noted that just reading about the new standards would never have given him the “…rich, depth of information, and resources obtained through the social network.”
Social networking allows people to get and stay in touch, minimizing the need for endless email streams or the wait for an ‘expert’. Online users are surprised by how quickly they get responses from employees at Sears and Kmart in response to questions and complaints posted on company websites. Timely communication fosters customer satisfaction, which creates brand loyalty and contributes to the bottom line.
Online social networks at work facilitate continuous employee communication, which promotes awareness of and helps employees better understand the roles and responsibilities of colleagues in other departments. This helps employees feel a part of the whole, increasing employee satisfaction at work.
Making Connections, Cultivating Relationships
Information and knowledge are shared with people, not organizations. We all know that creating relationships is essential to business success; social networking connects people, who often establish relationships lasting a lifetime.
Two-thirds of all Zappos employees are on Twitter, where they are encouraged to let their personalities shine through when connecting online with customers to offer tips on shoe care or respond to customer questions. Customers describe it to be like having their own ‘personal shopper’ at the company! Such customer satisfaction can only drive return business.
For 71 of its 75 years, Indium Corporation of America, developer, manufacturer and supplier of solders and thermal interface materials, acquired business through direct marketing and trade shows. Four years ago, the marketing director tapped an engineer on the shoulder and asked him to start blogging. Four years later, Indium has ten blogs and 15 bloggers, professional staff who cultivate relationships that have moved offline to ongoing business relationships. Made worldwide, these relationships have not only enhanced customer satisfaction and brand loyalty but employee satisfaction as well; employee bloggers feel empowered to interact with customers in new ways.
“Relationships in business mean everything; the relationship should be with the people behind the site, not with the site itself. Those in the organization must foster and nurture the relationship,” states Anne Pauker Kreitzberg, President of Cognetics.
By social networking, employees learn new things about their colleagues – personally and professionally. One employee was struck by insightful comments made online by a colleague, a man who appeared aloof during face-to-face meetings. This realization prompted the employee to interact more often with this colleague. Social networking opens up infinite possibilities and resources – not the least of which may be increased employee satisfaction.
Social networking also increases employee satisfaction on the job because employees feel more engaged in their work. An $8-billion energy company was conducting a strategic analysis of factors influencing its industry. The usual practice was for the company to hire external consultants to work with its corporate officers.
Recently, however, the company created an online network to engage people at all levels of the company around the world in discussions (real time and asynchronous) about industry trends, new technologies, the economy and factors influencing the success of the company. Some group discussions became so dynamic that problem-solving moved to creativity and innovation! Social networking activities made information relatively easy to locate and summarize in a report.
Facilitating Talent Management
Social networking facilitates talent management. Among the largest law firms in the world, Latham & Watkins LLP has a private social network containing policies, procedures, forms, invitations, upcoming events, calendars, forums and photos. The network is used early in the recruiting process through to the ‘alumni’ relationship, when attorneys leave or retire from the firm.
The firm grants second or third round recruits limited access to the network. Once a position is accepted, on-boarding is managed through the social network. When new attorneys show up for work the first day, they have already made connections and developed relationships with other staff. This social network stimulated a 15% increase in first year retention and a 38% increase in first year productivity.
In addition to enhancing productivity, social networking creates an environment in which employees continuously contact others for advice, strategies, and best practices – just-in-time to apply it on the job. This helps minimize the need for training outside of the organization, saving both time and money.